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5 ways HR can support working parents during a busy back-to-school season 

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Just as working parents feel like they’ve gotten used to summer schedules, back-to-school season is here to throw a wrench in routines – and it can have an effect on the workplace, too. 

Working parents can be faced with a lot of challenges during back-to-school season. Even before it begins, parents need to start thinking about school supplies and childcare schedules. And it doesn’t slow down when school starts: Parents need to work in extracurriculars, homework and more to the schedule. 

Why HR needs to support working parents

Supporting working parents really matters. Not only can doing so improve employee satisfaction and engagement, but not doing so can have devastating consequences.

“The effects seep into the workplace as parents shuffle schedules around pickups and drop-offs, take on the mental load of managing busy routines, and gear up for the unavoidable illnesses and school breaks to come during the school year,” says Wes Burke, chief human resources officer at Care.com. “The ultimate effect? Without proper support, workplaces are bound to see productivity take a hit and absenteeism spike among working parents.” 

Here are five ways that HR can support working parents during back-to-school season.

1. Prioritize a healthy work-life balance

The idea of self-care seems far-fetched for many working parents, who are already juggling so much in their day-to-day. So embedding employee wellness into your company culture can help working parents prioritize their own wellness without it seeming like just another task to add onto their plate.

For example, an employee resource group can help create a safe space for working parents to come together and share experiences and resources with one another. During back-to-school season, having this community can give working parents a place to vent their stress and ask for peer support. 

“We have an extensive parenting inclusion network that helps educate parents on our offerings and provides a supportive community where employees can share experiences, tips, and advice for other working parents throughout the year,” says Kim Jones, people experience leader at PwC. “By implementing these types of programs … employers can create a workplace environment where parents feel valued, empowered and well-equipped to manage their professional and parenting responsibilities effectively.”

2. Offer financial benefits

Consider this: The average planned back-to-school spending per household in the U.S. has gradually increased year-over-year to reach nearly $900 in 2023. 

Paired with inflation and the already sky-high cost of living expenses, financial stress can take a real toll on working parents this time of year. In fact, nearly two-thirds (60%) of working parents said they will consider an additional flexible work position to supplement their income this year, according to research from Indeed Flex.

Offering financial wellness benefits like education and sessions with advisors – such as through an employee assistance program – can help working parents get a handle on their finances and prepare for the associated costs throughout the school year.

3. Embrace flexibility

Flexibility can do wonders for any type of worker. For working parents, though, it can be a lifeline as they try to work out a new schedule and adjust to a new routine. 

In fact, according to a study by KinderCare, 69% of working parents feel they’ve been able to be more involved in their children’s lives because of more flexible work schedules.

“Whether it’s giving a parent control of their hours to accommodate school activities and manage transportation, avoiding team meetings during pick up and drop off times or allowing more flexibility during the afterschool childcare gap, support from an individual’s leader will go a long way in creating work-life harmony for working parents during back-to-school season,” says Burke. 

It’s important to remember that flexibility for working parents isn’t one-size-fits-all, and each family has different needs. For example, some parents may need to log on earlier to accommodate school drop-off, while others may want to shift their hours to the evening to get work done after the child is asleep. 

4. Offer childcare benefits 

On top of offering flexibility, another issue working parents face – especially during back-to-school season – is childcare. In fact, an APA study found 72% of working parents were stressed based on disruptions and uncertainty about school and childcare schedules. More recently, the childcare crisis has made good childcare hard to find and harder to afford.

Childcare benefits can do wonders to help ease the stress of a tight time schedule for already stressed-out parents. Impactful childcare benefits could look like:

  • Reimbursements for childcare or discounts to childcare centers
  • Access to emergency backup care or reimbursements for backup care
  • PTO time for emergency childcare situations. 

“For times when school’s closed for faculty meetings or a child falls sick on a day a parent has a team-wide presentation to lead, employer-sponsored backup care days can come to the rescue,” says Burke. “In turn, employers will see these family-focused benefits allow parents the mental and physical bandwidth to work when their personal and professional lives inevitably collide.” 

5. Listen, understand and validate

At the end of the day, sometimes the thing that a working parent needs the most is a safe space to vent and be heard. 

Working parents can get caught in a loop of being in work mode to parent mode and then right back to work mode; offering support and encouraging them to talk it through can help give working parents the reprieve they need to be their best selves, both at work and at home.

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